Koh Chang NotesIan McNamara
Yes, you know you’ve heard the name before, most travellers to Thailand have. It’s that big island near the Cambodian border, about 300 km from beautiful downtown Bangkok.
So it’s busy then, loads of tourists?
No, although the name is now well-known most people seem to follow the herd to Koh Tao or Koh Phi-phi – the backpackers’ Costa del Sol. Even in high season Koh Chang rarely appears busy.
No idea. I’m the wrong side of thirty-five (just) so relating to the minds of youthful backpackers who’s idea of a goodtime is to blow their wads of eurodollars on buckets of vodka + Redbull and then boogie the night away to underground dance noise is beyond me. A small Heineken, ‘Sex in the City – series two’ DVD and I’m all set for the evening. But, to hazard a guess at answering your question, I’d blame a combination of Leonardo Di Caprio; a love of small, dark bungalows and the allure of well-chiselled Scandinavian scuba instructors of both sexes.
That sounds enticing, I mean the booze, tunes & Scandiavians rather than a sad evening in. . but why should I go to Koh Chang instead?
For a start you wont be subjected to a screening of the ‘The Beach’ every evening during which the hippy next to you will claim loudly to a) have been paid $100 a day as an extra and b) that Leo is an OK guy for a movie star. the other islands: decent fruit shakes, ticket agencies, Thai food made for farang palates, real coffee, a wide choice of new accommodation, ATMs, dive schools, a private clinic and the chance to hear the latest Coldplay album in every restaurant on the island.
Plus you will find that all your traveller requirements are catered for on Koh Chang as on You can also purchase souvenirs e.g. t-shirts bearing the still hilarious ‘McShit’ slogan or with the name of your favourite Thai beverage emblazoned in Thai script on them.
The difference is that Koh Chang is a ‘real’ island not just a dot on the map, therefore you won’t be walking around the island or even walking from beach to beach as on the smaller islands. This means that the scenery is big: big hills, big jungle, big waterfalls. This also means you can’t see all the island in a day. Rent a motorbike, you will be able to find a beach, waterfall or fishing village to yourself simply by getting off your arse and doing a bit of exploring. You won’t get lost as there’s only one road.
That doesn’t sound too bad . . . how serious is that big badly written roadside warning sign on way into Whitesands beach?
When not to go? The ‘Oriental Eden of the East’ welcomes visitors to paradise 365 days a year! More realistically, high season is from December – April. But you’ll find that you’ll almost certainly have good weather and no crowds at all in October, November and May. Unless you have a backpack full of paperbacks; enjoy spending every other day feeling warm and wet; or can find ways to amuse yourself within the confines of your 6 square metre hut, it might be better to stay away during the rainy season which runs from June to September.
I’ve heard ‘The Treehouse’ is the place to stay, is that true?
Seemingly for most travellers the choice of accommodation is a toss up between The Treehouse on Lonely Beach and The Treehouse on Lonely Beach – so it was a pity it closed in Aug 2004. Yes, it was a nice place to stay and five years ago it was a very nice place to stay but there are now plenty of alternatives for anyone wanting to sleep before 4am or who would rather not have to endure their fellow guests, overloud retelling of their riveting traveller’s tales during breakfast. It’s extremely rare that you can’t find a room on Koh Chang, so take a look around before checking into the first cheap hovel you come across. Unless you’re on a really tight budget, why not choose a bungalow with glass in the windows, a bathroom and walls which aren’t paper thin? It’ll only cost you 100 -200 baht / night more than a mini version of the Black Hole of Calcutta.
Briefly . . .
On Whitesands beach, cheap beachfront bungalows, 150-200 baht/night, a stone’s throw from a 7-11, are available at ‘KC Grande Resort’ as are aircon bungalows for around 600 baht/night.
The long and almost always deserted Klong Prao beach is home to ‘KP Huts’, an ever expanding assortment of over 30 huts of varying styles, sizes and prices right in the centre of the empty beach.
Moving on Kai Bae offers a mix of tourist & backpacker accommodation, you wont find too many flophouses but there’s plenty of nice beachfront bungalows to choose from although the price is at the top end of a traveller’s budget (400 baht/night & up) ‘KB Bungalows’ is convenient, friendly, clean and affordable.
If it has to be Lonely Beach you’ll find that you can find a place to lay your head for 100 baht or less/night but you get what you pay for i.e. f&%k all in terms of decor, ambience, location and service. A couple of decent places to stay are ‘Nature Beach’ has a wide expanse of beach on its doorstep and the clean, airy, cheap and new ‘Paradise Cottages’.
Bailan Bay is the quietest stretch on the west coast and is a good bet if budget peace and quiet are what you’re looking for. New resorts are springing up here all the time, all within 10 minutes walk of each other and all after your custom as comparatively few visitors stay in this area.
At the very south of the island there are a few hut complexes near Bangbao, but as the ‘songtaews’ (converted pick-up truck taxis) rarely venture as far south as Bangbao you’re forced to hire a motorbike if you don’t want to be confined to your immediate surroundings.
And would it be correct to assume that there’s a veritable host of mid-price accommodation, including some very nicely designed boutique hotels and resorts, for anyone not into skimping and saving in order to stretch out their meagre savings for as near to eternity as possible?
Not surprisingly, it would. ‘The Mangrove’ on Bailan Bay, ‘Saffron on the Sea’, ‘Keereeta’ & ‘Remark Cottages’ on Hat Kai Mook beach, ‘Bhumiyama Resort’ on Lonely Beach, ‘Tropicana’ on Klong Prao beach and Bang Bao Sea Huts, beautiful but pricey wooden huts built, as the name suggests in the sea at Bang Bao, to name but a few.
OK, so ‘beaches’, ‘accommodation’, ‘beer’, ‘stuff to do’ . . . I’ve just got ‘culture’ and ‘food’ to tick off my checklist. Can you help?
Sure. There are a few temples on the island, none of which merit a visit unless you plan on cremating a close relative. So culture wise we’re left with modern Thai culture in the form of the karaoke lounge. The flyers, in Thai, for the ‘Milky Way’ karaoke pub on the outskirts of Whitesands promise visitors footie on a 150″ TV screen.
Being an island, seafood features almost as prominently as banana pancakes on restaurant menus but it’s worth remembering that a seafood meal for two will probably cost the same as a three nights accommodation in a moderate backpacker bungalow. ‘Cookie’ restaurant on Whitesands beach is deservedly popular as it serves decent sized portions at decent prices. Down in Bangbao, ‘The Bay’ restaurant is my favourite place for a 40 baht lunch in laid back surroundings. Wherever you are staying it’s worth venturing further than your resort restaurant to eat as you’ll always be able to find a good local eaterie where you can get a meal for 20-25 baht. If my missus doesn’t feel like cooking then we always get food from a no-name restaurant in Kai Bae.
As you head into Kai Bae from the north, go past the 7-11, on the opposite side of the road you’ll then pass ‘Oxygen bar & restaurant’ (itself a nice place for an evening meal), ‘Bee’s Coffee’, a tailors shop, a hairdresser’s and then a small open sided restaurant on a corner plot. Try it, you won’t be disappointed, the menu’s in English too. Also located in Kai Bae is ‘Papa’s Deli’ – the only place on the island you can get a baguette that not only looks, but also tastes like a baguette, a not inconsiderable feat.
Well, you’ve convinced me. How do I get there?
Depending on how much of an independent traveller you really are you can either:
Pop down to any travel agent’s office on Khao San Road, say the magic words ‘Koh Chang’, point at the photo of a minivan designed to comfortably seat six but refitted to seat ten, hand over around 250 baht and then return at the day and time stated on the ticket to board the van. The drive to the ferry pier will take around 5 hours by which time you’ll have probably lost all feeling in your legs.
Find your own way to either Ekkamai or Morchit bus stations, buy a ticket to Trat, it’ll be about 170 – 190 baht. The bus takes around 6 hours to get to Trat, depending on the number of toilet stops the driver requires. From Trat, the passenger ferry pier at Laem Ngop is a 20 baht, 20 minute songtaew ride away. Bus company staff will point you in the direction of the songtaews.
The ferries to the island takes around 40 minutes and once on the island you’ll see the white pick-up songtaews which are the island’s poor attempt at providing public transport.
Thanks for the info. Can I buy you a beer?
Of course you can, I live on the island. If you need more comprehensive info on Koh Chang please visit www.iamkohchang.com , or, if spending some of your time clad in a skintight rubber outfit is a prerequisite of your travel plans, you’ll find all you need to know about scuba diving off Koh Chang at www.divekohchang.com.